We enjoyed the cruise very much and rate the ship highly (see scores below). However, there are two faults that potentially occur with all cruises:
1. Smoking - we always have balcony cabins and on our last trip its use was spoilt by a smoker next door. As we were aft of him the smoke always came our way. Either restrict smoking to the aft deck port side (on Arcadia), only allow it in a designated section of aft cabins, or an outright ban.
2. Time in port. Generally there is not enough time in each port. I know berthing fees are astronomical in some ports e.g. Venice, but a few quid on a ticket that might cost well over Â£1000 could made a 'day in port' just that.
This cruise was on P&O Arcadia to the Norwegian Fjords & North Cape departing from and returning to Southampton.
Introduction This was the ninth cruise for my partner and myself, but the first on both P&O and Arcadia, so we looked forward to the experience with some trepidation. I can say, though, from the outset, we need not have worried. We chose this ship and line for the itinerary: Southampton -- Stavanger -- Flåm -- Olden -- Trondheim -- Honningsvåg (North Cape) -- Tromsø -- Andalsnes -- Bergen -- Southampton, and for the time of year -- my partner is a teacher. So were most of the other passengers, it seemed. Of every couple we met, at least one was a teacher or retired teacher.
Embarkation During the days before our departure date, the weather in England was very wet with severe flooding in many places. We decided to leave early (at 8.30am for a 2pm check–in) but had a completely uninterrupted journey to Southampton, arriving at 11am. What threw us a little bit was that the ship was scheduled to leave from the Mayflower Terminal, but was in fact berthed at theQueen Elizabeth II Terminal. Our luggage was taken away immediately and I was able to leave the car with Cruise & Passenger Services, but the check-in did not open until midday. The hour's wait was not wasted though, and we enjoyed watching fellow passengers arrive. When check-in eventually opened, we were among the first to get our boarding cards and were ushered up the escalator to the departure lounge. Much to our surprise, we were directed straight on to the ship and were thus on board at 12.15. Shortly afterwards, there was a public announcement that cabins would not be ready until 2pm and we should go to the Belvedere Restaurant (self-service) for lunch. Being among the first on board, there were no queues and after a very satisfactory seafood salad, we had time to explore the ship before finding our cabin.
Cabin Our cabin was D126, a balcony cabin on Deck 5 (or D Deck or Dominica Deck) and it connected with the next door cabin. This was initially a concern, but the next cabin was either unoccupied, the occupants were very quiet, or the insulation between the two was very good, because we heard not a peep. The cabin was very comfortable, twin beds made up as one, sofa with table and dressing table with coffee/tea making facilities, television and fridge containing two complimentary bottles of water. The bathroom was satisfactory, with both bath and shower. The shower was excellent with a good water flow, and more importantly, consistent temperature. I have found n other ships that the shower temperature often fluctuates between stone cold and scalding hot, depending on time of day and use of showers elsewhere.
A minor criticism was that the amount of storage was not generous and the wardrobes were a bit shallow, so there was always a sleeve or hem sticking out from the doors, and I had to re-fold all my shirts because they were too long to fit on the shelves. Having said all that, though, there was just enough storage for two people for two changes of clothes per day.
The balcony, I noticed, was slightly shallower than the balconies on the deck above, but still accommodated two teak deck chairs and a small, teak table. The top of one of the lifeboats was just below the floor level of the balcony and this precluded any views of the dockside immediately below. As all the balconies are recessed behind the line of the lifeboats, I don't know if any higher cabin would have the view either.
One disappointment was the lack of bathrobes (I believe they are available in higher grade cabins). They would have been very useful for going on to the balcony in the early mornings to view the scenery. Additionally, no shampoo or conditioner was provided in the bathroom, but the bottle of Moulton & Brown shower gel seemed to work fine.
Dining & Food We requested a table for second sitting dinner and were allocated Table 52 for six on the lower level of the Meridian Restaurant; not a window table, but close enough to get good views during dinner. We played musical chairs throughout the cruise, so that everyone could enjoy the views.
Food in the Meridian was generally very British and very good, although I had a rack of lamb that was very tough and game grill that was very dry. There was a tendency, though, to add a lot of different flavours to any given dish, for example: breast of chicken Maryland served with bacon, banana, corn pancake with a mustard jus. Service was good and unobtrusive, and although the dishes were already plated, vegetable came silver service, so one could have as much or as little as one wanted. For someone who is a small eater, this is a blessing, not being faced with leaving a plate half eaten. Our sommelier, perhaps, was a little overenthusiastic. Having selected the same wine for the first couple of nights, he had the same wine ready and open every following night! To get something different, we had to tell him the night before. Not a great criticism though –- on one cruise, the wine didn't appear until the desserts were served!!
Service and food and breakfast and lunch were also good, although we don't like the open seating arrangements and being shepherded on to large tables of strangers. Having said that, though, we generally had good conversations and met a couple from Scarborough who had watched Queen Mary 2 sail through Scarborough Bay in 2004 (at the request of Jimmy Saville) whilst we were on QM2 watching Scarborough pass by, and Jimmy Saville himself, who was on a boat alongside.
We also ate in the Belvedere Court, mostly breakfasts and the occasional lunch, and found what was on offer satisfactory. What I hate about all of these self-service restaurants, though, are the people who think it is acceptable to push into a queue at a counter because they want something half way down, or start at the other end and force their way against the flow.
There are two speciality restaurants on board Arcadia; Arcadian Rhodes and the Orchid Restaurant. We tried Arcadian Rhodes first and unfortunately, we were rather disappointed. We didn't think the room was particularly special, not sufficiently different from other areas of the ship and we were given an isolated table at the back adjacent to the waiters' station and the entrance to the galley when there were several window tables vacant. We didn't really enjoy the food and the service was quite slow, even though the restaurant was quite empty. However, the other two couples at our table also ate there and thought it excellent, so perhaps it's just our taste in food.
We thought of cancelling our reservation for the Orchid Restaurant as a result of our experience, but we are so glad we didn't. It spans the ship on Deck 11 and as we were sailing through the inshore islands, we had panoramic views from the windows. It is also a beautiful room. The food had an Indian theme for that night and food and service were superb. This time, we had a window table. We would hesitate going back to Arcadian Rhodes but would go back to the Orchid without hesitation.
Ship's Facilities I was told by a friend who had been on Arcadia recently that I wouldn't like the ship because it wasn't grand enough. Completely the opposite. I loved the ship because of it's many small, intimate areas and places where you could sit and read or just stare out to sea. From the Crow's Nest or the Orchid Bar you can get panoramic views and from other bars and lounges, big windows where you get a view of the sea. Many reviews have complained about the small atrium above Deck 1, but I would rather the space is used for passengers rather than just creating an impression. I have compared the deck plans of the new Cunard Queen Victoria (it is basically the same Vista-class ship) with those of Arcadia, and all the small spaces have disappeared to accommodate the grand spaces Cunard wants (there are virtually no intimate spaces on Queen Mary 2 either).
We didn't use the casino or the Rising Sun pub, and thought the library was perhaps a bit small. We only used it to reference the Berlitz cruise ship guide to get information on other ships we saw in port. The gymnasium and spa facilities looked extensive, but we didn't use them, only passing through to get to that best kept secret, the forward observation deck!
The main swimming pool under its retractable roof was well used, but again, we only passed through -- the humidity, smell of chlorine and noise were too much (old fuddy-duddies you might say, but at 46 and 59 we were among the youngest on the ship!)
Service Service in all areas was excellent and the staff made a point of learning our names and what we liked to drink, and this was in the several bars that we frequented during the day and evenings. Getting a drink on the Promenade Deck after 6pm was more difficult -- service was suspended at that time and you had to collect your own drink.
During the cruise, we had a classical pianist who played in the Crow's Nest in the early evening. His first concert came at the end of a sea day and the Crow's Nest was fairly full. He started playing, and as the time passed, quite a lot of people started looking around for stewards to refresh their drinks, but they had disappeared! The expressions of horror at being stuck drinkless were quite funny. We later discovered that a sign had been put outside to say that service would be suspended 15 minutes before the start of the concert, but of course, we were already there and didn't see it!
Entertainment We only attended one show in the Palladium Theatre and that was the Cirque Arcadia, a dance, song and acrobatic show. This was excellent. Before and after dinner in the Crow's Nest there was live music and not too loud and obtrusive. In the Piano Bar, there was -- guess what -- piano music from time to time, but there were always places where you could meet for pre-dinner drinks without music.
We went to one port lecture and to a presentation about the new Ventura, a ship that seems to be geared up especially for children. In the evenings, we always headed for the Crow's Nest, where, at 11pm, there was a team quiz. It was great fun and our dinner table, whether two, four or six of us taking part, generally did abysmally! Also in the Crow's Nest, we got caught one afternoon by the first of the two daily games of bingo. We'd never before experienced audience participation -- after each number was called, the players responded -- 88, two fat sailors and everybody responded “wobble, wobble”. Within minutes, we were in stitches and in serious danger of being thrown out!!
Ports of Call Stavanger: After a day at sea from Southampton, the first port of call was Stavanger. We took a short, morning coach excursion from the pier (only a few hundred yards from the cathedral and the centre of town) to an iron age farm at Ullandhaug Hill where our guide gave way to a representative (and archaeologist) from the university. He was an excellent speaker and gave a very interesting and amusing talk about the farm, the people and myths surrounding the area (the horned helmets of the Vikings are as mythical as the trolls of Norway). From there, we were taken to a hill top featuring a 1960s television aerial, but with panoramic views from its base, and then back into the town to the cathedral to which we paid a short visit. Following that, our guide walked us through the old town (probably mid 1800s because the Norwegians are always burning their towns down) and back to the ship. Our intention after lunch was to go back into town and walk around on our own, but it was warm and sunny and we spent it on deck instead! In any case, we are back in Stavanger next year on board QE2 (No criticism of P&O. It's just that we want to be on board a ship that we love for one last time)
Flåm: Our next call was at Flåm on Sognefjord. Whatever you do on an itinerary like this, get up early. Sailing into the fjords with still waters and early morning mists is magnificent. It's still spectacular sailing out in the afternoon, but the mists and stillness add to the scenery. Here, our intention was to take the Flåmbana railway to Vatnahalsen (not quite the end of the line) and back, with waffles and cream at the Vatnahalsen Hotel (excellent, but rather poorly washed crockery). The journey is spectacular (I shall probably use this word again a lot more times) with a halt going up and coming down at the Kjosfossen waterfall where you get off the train to take photographs (and get soaked by the spray). Eerie music starts up and suddenly there is a blond Viking woman prancing about on the rocks and enticing you into the falls (probably a man in a wetsuit, wig and long dress). Weird, but fun.
Olden: At the head of Nordfjord/Utfjord, Olden is set in a beautiful location with the waters of the fjord a bright blue from glacial runoff. Our excursion of the day was to the Briksdal Glacier. The coach trip there was about 30 minutes up the spectacular and beautiful Olden Valley to the visitor centre for the Josterdalsbreen National Park. From there, it was a very steep (for most of the way) 45 minute walk to the foot of the glacier. Unfortunately, it has retreated 25 metres in the last few years and it was not actually possible to get right up to it as the ice is now deemed to be unsafe.
Trondheim: Following the tiny villages of Flåm and Olden, Trondheim is a metropolis in comparison. Our excursion was by coach and veteran tram. The coach took us the short distance from the dock to the cathedral where we walked around part of the old town before boarding the tram. This took us around the town centre before taking us miles into the hills and forests above the town. At the end of the line, our coach met us again and took us back to the ship, calling at the Kristiansten Fort for panoramic views over the city.
North Cape: It was a day at sea to reach Honningsvåg on the island of Magerøya where we disembarked for the North Cape. En route, we crossed the Arctic Circle and then sailed up Hollandsfjord to view an offshoot of the Svartisan Glacier, which has also shrunk in recent years. Leaving there, we travelled for several hours through the inshore islands before heading out to sea and northwards.
Our guide to North Cape told us we might see reindeer belonging to the Sami people (no longer called Laplanders). We thought we might see one or two, but in fact there were hundreds, some of them bringing the bus to a halt as they ambled across the road. The road from Honningsvåg is spectacular and over real Arctic tundra, but North Cape itself is not much: a visitor centre with souvenir shop, café, post office, chapel and enormous bar, with a globe on a plinth above the cliffs themselves. Like a lot of places in Norway, once you have reached your destination, there is not a lot to see or do (unless you like walking), so after 20 minutes, we were ready to leave. However, it's nice to have been there, and the journey there and back was worth it in itself.
The best part was the ship then sailing past North Cape at midnight with it beautifully lit by the midnight sun. The party atmosphere on board was fantastic with everybody on deck at midnight with their cameras to be photographed with the sun somebody took my photograph and my head beautifully eclipses the sun!
Tromsø: Another sail along a magnificent fjord (actually a sound) to reach Tromsø. We had a coach tour of the city before stopping at the Arctic Cathedral and then taking the cable car to the top of Storsteinen (1380 feet). From there, the views over Tromsø, the island of Tromsøya on which it is located and the surrounding sounds are magnificent, well worth the visit. We were then taken to the Tromsø University Museum (our Spanish guide was a student there!) -- not too interesting as the signs on the exhibits were only in Norwegian.
Andalsnes On Isfjord: The town used to be just two farms, Andals and Nes and as a community grew around them, they combined the two names. In the morning, we visited Trollveggen, the tallest vertical rock face in the world outside the Grand Canyon and then Trollstigen at the top of and on the opposite side of the same mountain, up a precipitous and narrow road with numerous U-bends. Not a lot there except the inevitable souvenir shop, café and toilets, and of course, the spectacular views.
In the afternoon, we were to travel on a train pulled by a vintage steam engine, but it was out of commission for the summer and we were pulled by diesel instead. A coach took us to Bjorli Station to pick up the train and en route stopped at Trollveggen again! The train runs back down the same valley through yet more spectacular scenery, starting very high up the valley side and then by way of a 360° tunnel inside the mountain dropped to lower and lower levels. Guess what? We passed through Trollveggen for the third time, but at least didn't stop!
Bergen: The weather in Andalsnes was rather grey and damp in the morning, but brightened during the day. The whole trip was general bright and warm and we had breakfast on deck the two mornings inside the Arctic Circle. However, Bergen was very wet indeed with very heavy showers all through the day. Our guide told us that the city had 280 to 300 days of rain a year! We took the funicular railway to the top of Fløyen, a thousand feet above the city. The view should have been fantastic, but we arrived during an absolute downpour and other than seconds braving the elements at the vantage point, we huddled in the souvenir shop along with passengers from three other cruise ships in port! Our coach then took us around the city and criss-crossed it from north to south, east to west. It's very attractive indeed. However, the weather prevented us walking back in during the afternoon for a further look.
Gratuities Gratuities were not included in the on board account, but the cruise information recommended £3.50 per person per day to be split between the cabin steward and dining room staff. We paid a little more than because we felt that the level of service deserved it and we included a couple of the bar staff as well.
Disembarkation On previous cruises, disembarkation has usually been on a deck by deck basis with the suites and loyalty club members getting off first. Our deck has usually given us a disembarkation time of about 11am. I don't know on what basis this disembarkation was organised, but we were allocated an 8am slot for departure with only the self-help passengers getting off earlier at 7.30. On the dot, we were called to go ashore and 15 minutes later, we had collected the luggage, loaded the car and were driving away. It couldn't have been easier and we were home by 10.45.
General I had some doubts about booking this cruise, having visited a couple of fjords before and not been that impressed. I realise that neither of them were good representations for what we actually saw, both sailing along the fjords we did and among the inshore islands. I have never seen such spectacular scenery. It was obviously helped by the good weather we had other than in Bergen. And the ship? It exceeded expectations. It was comfortable, quiet and not crowded, although the Crow's Nest could get full in the evenings and it was sometimes difficult to find a seat. The stewards, however, raided the adjoining Viceroy Room for armchairs to accommodate us.
The ship is child free, but I have never found children on board to be a problem (I never use the pools which I agree they tend to take over). Except for very few people in their 20s and 30s, the passengers were of retirement age and older -- I believe the Electra disco played to very small audiences, although we never even discovered it until the last day. Would we select this ship again? Absolutely! And the itinerary? I would recommend it to anyone, although it is weather dependant to get the best out of it.
Overview-This is a very long review as it covers two 14 night cruises back to back from Acapulco to Buenos Aires. The ship is P&O's Arcadia (formerly star princess) now an Adults only ship. I will not spend much time on the ship as it soon transfers to another division & becomes Ocean Village, except to mention things that indicate P&O philosophy. The itinerary was superb & we had a fantastic cruise in spite of our reservations about P&O food. We are both retired and have some limitations on activities that we can do, likewise we are not party animals but do enjoy a good time and regularly attend theatre shows etc at home, we do like scenery & seeing new places but are not into shopping. This was our 1st P&O cruise but we have been on 17 other cruises with various lines. P&O & Charter Flights-Travel to & from ship was by charter flight, formalities at a minimum. Hand over cruise voucher at UK airport, check in, fly out, board coach at airport & given little green card, hand that in at gangway & you are on ship! Creditcard can be given to guest relations any time! The USA lines could learn from this simple procedure!! Return boarding cards are given out on ship.
Our outward flight refuelled & changed crew at Montreal, lucky it was not a blizzard there (the unfortunates on a Monarch flight were diverted in Cuba by fog & were 11 hours late). Glad to see the sun rise over Gulf of Mexico after being in darkness for 21.5 hours since leaving home, landed at Acapulco after 15 hour flight to find it full of planes diverted from Mexico City by fog & no steps available. We eventually boarded our coach, best we have ever been on, our cruise then nearly ended before it began when a heavy piece of luggage (definitely over airline limit for carry on luggage) put on rack by fellow passenger came off & hit my wife on the head. Luckily the seat had a high back & took a lot of the weight, otherwise she would have been in hospital or the morgue!! Our big moan is in the allocation of seats on the charters, we requested extra legroom on account of height. Only one was available, so accepted two seats together at a window, these were not good or really bad but we were annoyed to find several rows of 4 seats were empty & had been "bagged" by one of the nearest couple on take off so one had 4 seats (full length sleep) & the other two seats.very comfortable for them but we were still stuck in our 2 seats! Return flight from Buenos Aires was far worse! We were allocated two of the 14 worst seats on the plane in spite of our request for extra legroom, they had only 6.75" between the front edge of our seats & back of one in front!! This applies to seats G&H in rows 6-12 on Britannia 767 flights & is approx 1.75" less than all other seats on the plane. The flight attendant (Kevin) tried to say all seats were the same when naked eye said they were not & when I challenged him to get a tape measure he was "Too busy". Do not accept seats GH rows 6-12 on Britannia if you are over 5ft 3" tall. Also be aware the front cabin is filled up for aircraft balance purposes & any spare seats will be in the rear cabins. Also note the planes for the Christmas cruise from Valparaiso were condensed from 4 to 3 at Barbados resulting in a 3 hour delay for onward flight to Santiago, just good business I suppose!
P&O & The Ship-Arcadia is Adults only & this worked well, however the children's facilities had just been locked up & not converted to adult space, presumably because P&O knew this incarnation was only short term. We liked the Atrium, Horizon lounge, Festival theatre, pool & deck area & thought the public areas were well maintained. The library was ok but only internet terminal was here & all emails had to be typed by librarian @ 3pounds ($4.50) per 100 words with anything over 100words @ 5pounds per 100 or part thereof. There was also a charge of 2.50pounds to receive an email!! We did not like Oval pub (dull 50's decor & smoky) or Century bar also smoky. The bar prices are reasonable compared to some other Lines & include gratuities. The Palladium show lounge has the worst sight lines we have ever experienced on a ship, particularly the balcony. Good job it is one of the changes when converting to Ocean Village, also changed will be casino/oval pub into cabaret bar & Horizon lounge into gym at front & disco at rear. The two self service laundry rooms are very useful & well equipped for a long trip. The gratuity guidelines are also lower than other lines, presumably because P&O charge a higher per day rate. The Decoration of the ship for Christmas & New Year was very good, a team of 6 people had been flown out to Santiago from UK just to spend 2 days putting up the decorations before flying home again.
The Cabin-E184 was chosen as a good position for easy access to most areas of the ship, on the port side for scenery & in a good position for any rough weather we might encounter. Cabins are large but poorly designed & furnished in our opinion. Plenty of storage space, large shower with good performance but rest of bathroom tiny, you had to open bathroom door to have adequate space to dry yourself. Only place you can see TV from is the bed & dressing table is just a single piece of wood (should be other side under TV & a decent seat in its place). Two beds pushed together for a double had a threequarter inch drop from one to the other, most uncomfortable & only single blankets crossways, consequently my feet were always cold. But the worst feature of the cabin was the overpowering stench of smoke!!! It must have been occupied by heavy smokers for dozens of previous cruises. We were given our own spray & sprayed at least twice a day but even after several days it was still there, I even had to spray inside the bathroom cabinets it was so saturated with smoke!! Food & Service-We thought the deck crew worked very hard. In the housekeeping/dining room/buffet areas there seemed to be a lethargic or end of contract atmosphere. We were lucky with our dining room waiters Jude & Raphael were excellent for the whole 28 nights. When we used the Dining room on open seating for breakfast or lunch we were not that impressed with standard of service. Our wine waiter Edwin was excellent & always cheerful. Californian house wine is available at 5.55pounds per half litre carafe & 9.75 pounds per litre. Wines from the "New World" start at 10-12 pounds ($15-18) per bottle. Food.. Given that P&O charge the same or more per day than RCI, Celebrity or HAL we expected better food. Yes it is British cooking but old fashioned British style dating back to the 1950's, they need a new modern British Chef with a lighter touch as consultant, such as Gary Rhodes or Brian Turner. Some of the meat was so tough as to be uneatable (I do not blame the Chefs on board, the supplies come from head office), the fish was very poor, how can you make Salmon tough? The menu design could be a lot better, fish on a bed of mushy peas?? The veg had a preponderance of root vegetables (never seen so many Turnips & Swede. Rutabaga for our USA friends) Potatoes had too many varieties that had started life in a powder form. In the end we took to asking for a baked potato & some of the peas were as hard as bullets! Meat & sauces are served on the plate with "silver service" for the vegetables. For Christmas & New Year dinners P&O pulled out all the stops & they were very good. Starter at Christmas dinner of venison & pork pate with a fruit coulis was the only dish that was up to Celebrity standards in my opinion for the whole trip. Traditional turkey Christmas dinner & pudding flamed at the table by the Chef followed by cake, choc truffles & whole stilton cheese. Party hats & Crackers were provided and again for New Years Eve dinner. Good meals included rib beef, rack of lamb, lamb shanks, chicken breast wrapped in bacon, beef Wellington & tournedos of beef. Good deserts, Christmas pudding & cherries jubilee both flamed at the table, the trifle and all individual sponge puddings were very good. Poor included all fish, goose, sirloin beef & one lunch that was supposed to be vegetarian selection .grilled vegetables.consisted of a few mushrooms left over from b/f. half a tomato, a bit of yesterdays potato & a "vegetable sausage" that could have been mistaken for something else!! My wife had chicken curry one day that consisted of a single tiny chicken drumstick & some sauce on rice & one half grapefruit served to me for breakfast was obviously left over from day before! The Conservatory buffet was limited at breakfast, no omelette station, no smoked salmon etc, we took to having a bowl of tinned fruit & a packet of Kellogg's fruit & Fibre for breakfast & only rarely did we find anything on the lunch buffet to suit us, we did try the curry a few days but not very exciting, we mostly had a baked potato with cheese & a salad. However the special seafood buffet one day was very good & so was the Mexican buffet. The "British Pub food" buffet provided me with the only bit of fish (in batter) that was moist & succulent as fish should be, that I had all cruise. Midnight snacks are available but there is no Gala midnight buffet, one afternoon there is a "walk through the Kitchens" followed by an afternoon chocoholics buffet. You will not starve with P&O but we thought the menus could be better (I had pork one night for the 1st time ever on a cruise ship because nothing else looked appetising, after all it is the cheapest cut of meat in UK) as could the quality of the ingredients & whatever you may think of our P&O food report the food was still at least 5 times better than our disastrous experience on Festival/First European cruises last Christmas. Entertainment-one word, superb. The Stadium Theatre Company comprised 11 singers & dancers who put on 9 different production shows in 26 nights all to a very high quality. We did have Bruce Morrison, a Director of Stadium Co on board for the whole cruise. He was working on the Christmas show & a production based on the work of Freddy Mercury & Queen but also did two cabaret spots on his own, one a history of P&O in song in the Festival theatre & a full show of Scottish numbers on New Years Eve. The ships choir of crew & passengers who had some very good singers did a superb carol concert in the Atrium on Christmas Eve. The classical pianist for the 1st two weeks tended to bang the keys a bit but programme was OK. Alan Schiller for the 2nd two weeks was very good with a good sense of humour. The Male & Female concert singers both cruises were good as was Duggie Brown the comedian for 1st two weeks. Sorry to say neither the 2nd comedian nor the "comedy" magician were to our liking. Music was provided by a 7 piece orchestra, a duo, a trio & a 4 piece group. Orchestra & Trio stayed on all 4 weeks, we liked the first duo better than 2nd & 2nd group better than first. New years eve was very good, trio in oval pub with jazz, duo in atrium with traditional ballroom, group in horizon lounge with party music & by 10.30 we were back far enough north for it to be warm enough for a disco on deck round the pool, a really good New Year & we tumbled into bed around 1.30am.We enjoyed guest lecturer John Carter on the 1st leg but not the port lecturer who only read from the port & tour guides. The port lecturer on 2nd leg, Mrs Taylor was very good. The port guides provided in the cabin were very good. Who goes-As an adults only ship, most passengers were of a mature age but very active with a smaller number in middle age & only a very few in the 20/30 group. We knew the 1st 2 weeks had been sold off at bargain rates a few weeks before departure, but all these places had been taken up by experienced travellers & cruisers who always seemed willing to talk & all really wanted to go to South America. There were tee shirts on display from every corner of the globe! 220 stayed on for the Christmas cruise but some of those joining at Valparaiso did seem a little more reserved & less inclined to strike up a conversation. It did amaze us that people had not done any research on the weather we could expect & consequently had not brought any cold weather clothing. One lady had only brought a cardigan & a couple from Europe complained to us that their TA had not told them how cold it would be!! Most people were from Britain with just one lady from USA who we became friendly with, around 6 from Holland & a few from Northern Europe. Dress standard all 4 weeks was very high, only saw 2/3 gentlemen not in formal dress on formal nights. Itinerary-Superb, magnificent scenery, lots of wildlife & a chance to see cultures most people can only read about. In order to give a view on what we did that may provide an insight for future cruisers to South America, I will provide a journal below in date order, with some emphasis on temperature & wind conditions we found, in the hope that this may help those who think South America ends at Rio! Dec 6th Acapulco- Having been there before we had a sleep to recover from the flight. Ship was 3 hours late sailing due to late arrival of one flight. Dec 7th Huatulco-One hour late arriving, anchor out & with a medium Pacific swell tendering was slow. Independent travellers with a ticket number over 480 did not get ashore. We had booked the ships Snorkel experience tour. Huatulco looks a pretty place just being developed & with 9 sandy bays, will be a big resort in 20 years time. Unfortunately the snorkel boat was not up to standard, the ladder out of the water was almost non existent & you had to be young & fit to get out of the water at all without assistance but P&O did the right thing & refunded everyone their money. Two snorkel stops at Cacaluta bay (only fair) & La Entrega beach. No pillar or fan coral like Caribbean, fair number of fish. If I went back again I would just get a taxi to La Entrega beach & snorkel from there. Noon temp 28.5c & sunny. Sailed @ 1500 hrs.
Dec 8th sea day sunny, noon temp 27.5c Dec9th sea day, mostly cloud with a few rain showers noon temp 25.5c wind force 3 so felt cooler than that on deck. Crossing line ceremony at 3pm, not very good seen a lot better, just a "pillow fight" on a pole across the pool. Dec 10th Manta, Ecuador arrived 11am, total cloud cover & 24c temp but wind made it feel a little cooler. USA destroyer on opposite side of pier & greeted by a small but enthusiastic band. Only a short stay until 4pm, mainly for refuelling. Taxis available for $10 per hour, 3hours plenty of time to see any sights & buy a hat at Montichristi. Manta is very poor, & harbour is full of "the vacuum cleaners" of the sea, the purse sein boats. We only walked along the pier & along the road (watch your step full of holes) as far as a beach that looked very dirty, we did hear one unconfirmed report that a passenger had been mugged in town. Summed up by the Comedians joke that night " are you going back to Manta, reply.. I would sooner walk round Leeds with a nail through my shoe". Dec 11th sea day & a big surprise, although only 7 degrees of latitude below the equator at noon, the cloud cover & wind off the cold Humboldt current made it very cool. Noon temp only 20c but wind factor meant a lot of us had put on long trousers & a sweater by lunchtime!
Dec 12th Callao for Lima. Still heavy low cloud as we approached Callao, had to anchor as our berth was occupied by a Korean naval ship. The 218 passengers on the 3 day tour to Machu Pichu had to be sent ashore by tender to catch their flights. Those of us on the morning tour of Lima assembled in show lounge at 8.45am, we were kept well informed of the situation by the bridge. However the executive purser, Brian Purnell OBE kept our interest for over 2 hours by talking about his life in Royal Navy for 24 years before joining P&O 8 years ago. I do not think many cruise lines could have produced some one to save the day like this! Finally got alongside by 11.30am & the ship arranged an early lunch in DR & Buffet with assembly for the tours at 12,30pm, again superb organisation. Noon temperature 21c. Tour was very good, San Francisco Convent, Cathedral (wooden but you would never know it), Casa Aliaga (oldest house in one family in western hemisphere), Plazas & parks, San Isidro, Miraflores & parque del Amor. Lots of trees & shrubs all over but as not much rain mostly covered in dust, even the gardeners were wearing smog masks! Jacaranda trees in full bloom & a golf course in middle of city. Beaches looked dirty with a lot of wave action & water temp only 17c but some locals were swimming. On way back to ship we passed several street corners with a collection of official "black market" money changers, it seems Peruvians change local currency to $ at first opportunity.
Dec 13th Still at Callao. We hired a taxi for $10 per hour to tour ourselves. Having passed the cemetery's yesterday on the coach we were intrigued enough to go back for photos. The "Britanico" was a typical flower filled garden style & right next door the Peruvian one was stacked up like a mini block of flats. Next the museum of Anthropology & archaeology, entrance $3 & well worth it, very well laid out with mummies & artefacts up to 6000 years old, spent 1.5 hours in there. On to Parque D'Olivia with 300 year old olive trees planted by the Spanish, out for 4.25 hrs altogether. PM we had a stroll to the local market on the pier that we found not to expensive (embroidered t shirts $6 & a small baby Alpaca bedside rug $17. Sailed at 11pm. Dec 14th San Martin Arrived at 8am with sun breaking through. Good sized band playing with 30 school children waving flags. San Martin is nothing but a bulk import coal/bulk export Sulphur facility in a desert, not even a cactus in sight & in the Parancas National Park. It did however provide us with one of the most exciting wildlife tours it is possible to make! Courtesy buses were provided to the town of Pisco 15 kilometre away, heard various reports on this, some thought it interesting others never got of the bus! Flights over the Nasca lines could be made at a price of $375. We hired a taxi for 4, to the pier at Parancas ($10 approx 10k away), there is a small museum near the entrance to the park but those who went in said not much there. At the pier a local with a badge ushered us to the front of the queue at a booth & we signed our names & handed over $15 each for a 2 hour speed boat trip to the "Ilas Balestas" billed as Peru's mini Galapagos. 24 seat speed boats, open, we had been surrounded by young boys at the pier selling all sorts of things but the hats with a brim were good quality, embroidered with a logo + a neck cord to stop blowing off & good value at $4 each. Everyone has to wear life jackets & the operation seems well controlled so that not too many boats are at the islands at one time. Across the bay past the ship we viewed a candelabra cactus geoglyph in the desert & a pod of dolphins came right around the boat. The Islands themselves were magical, 1000's of sea lions, millions of birds, red crabs, rock arches & tunnels. An experience not to be missed if you are ever in San Martin. With our taxi back to ship & a tip it was $21 each against $135 for same tour with the ship, OK so they got a cup of coffee & an English speaking guide, but heck we know the difference between a sea lion & a penguin! PM we sat on deck in hazy sunshine & had a swim in pool (fresh water.. very good) Noon temp 22.2c with little wind, sailed at 6pm.
Dec 15th at sea following Peruvian coastline. Cloudy & very cool, 9am update from bridge said we were on same latitude as Cairns Australia, this is much cooler than there, noon temp 22c. Large pod dolphins on port bow at lunchtime & a grey whale mid afternoon. Talked to a couple celebrating their diamond wedding anniversary (60 years) that day, the lady had an aortic heart valve replacement 6 years ago & they had just done the tour to Cusco & Machu Pichu to 14000ft with no problems when younger ones had gone down with altitude sickness.. There's hope for us all yet!
Dec 16th Arica, arr 7am, mini bus service provided to dock gates. Outside gates across the road is a small park & there was a craft market set up here. Behind the park is the Cathedral & right of the park is El Morrow, to the top of which is a pathway negotiable by the fit & healthy in 10/15 mins. Chile is more prosperous than most South American country's & taxis are $20 per hour. We took one to top of El Morrow to see the monuments & admire the view etc, then to the geoglyphs in the desert. The valley is green & productive from the Andes melt water but it hardly ever rains here. Dropped back in town to find an internet cafe, there are 2 just above McDonalds to left of Cathedral but you need to understand Spanish & have an hotmail a/c to use them. We found the people of Arica to be polite & friendly, even stopping cars & trucks to let you cross the road when not on a crossing. At lunchtime there was a large band & troupe of dancers on the dockside. Our table companion did the ships tour to Lauca national park, up to 14000ft & 4 people collapsed with altitude sickness & revived with oxygen. She said views & wildlife were spectacular. Dec 17th sea day again, sun rising earlier as we head south, some cloud about. Noon temp 25c but wind force 4 making it cooler on deck. Whales seen again & a large pod of Dolphins at 5pm.
Dec 18th Coquimbo arr 7am, very low cloud & temp only about 15c forecast to rise to 19c so decided to postpone our planned trip up the Elqui valley until the afternoon, silly us, found out later once you get away from the coast it is always sunny up the valley. Early lunch then negotiated a taxi trip up the Elqui valley to Vicuna for 3 hours @ $20 per hour. Valley is broad & lush with fields of Papaya, tomatoes, potatoes, oranges & grapes but narrows further up the valley to a dam with a large lake. All water is melt water from the Andes & the valley sides are pure desert with candelabra cacti. Vicuna is a pretty little town with a nice plaza that has old knarled trees around it. On way back stopped for a walk round the plaza at La Serena, full of flowering trees & shrubs, Jacaranda Datura Poinsettia etc would have liked more time here. Arriving back at ship we found a boat tied up behind unloading swordfish with quite a crowd watching & sea lions swimming around looking for scraps. Sun started to get out at Coquimbo by 4 pm & was full out by 5pm when temp was up to 27c, sailed at 6pm.
Dec 19th Valparaiso arr 06.40am, 3615 nautical miles from Acapulco. Clear sky & sun shining. Had booked a full day ships tour to Santiago for 75 pounds ($113) mainly to use up some onboard credit we had. Interesting coach ride through scrubby hills & fertile valleys full of grapes & vegetables with some views of snow capped mountains. Passed through several tunnels on the motorway (tolls) before arriving at the horse racing course (mainly for a restroom stop). Then toured the traffic jams down O'Higgins avenue while several buildings were pointed out (sit on left side of coach for best views). Presidential palace closed, walk across park & wait for bus to negotiate traffic jam, round to another plaza & then I was embarrassed to be taken into the Cathedral in the middle of a large service, & more so by some of our party using camera flash while there, I walked out. We then went to top of Conception hill for views of Santiago & the 19000ft high Andes through the smog! Lunch was taken on the hill & took over 2 hours & was not very special, some nice gardens there though with roses & gladioli at 2500ft above sea level. Having taken so long in Santiago our tour of Vina del Mar & Valparaiso on way back were cut short & we saw next to nothing of them! Only just got back in time for a quick change for dinner. A disappointing tour, would have been much better off taking a taxi.
Dec 20th still at Valparaiso, change over day. 1st coaches started leaving for airport at 5.30am. We sunbathed on deck & had a swim in the morning, then in afternoon had a walk round the square with all the naval buildings just outside the dock gates. The streets off this were not a very smart area with down & outs sleeping in the gutter, a small square at the end had some flower sellers & we bought some carnations (100 pesos each) for the cabin, A motor cycle policeman came up & warned us to watch out in this area! We did look in an old Victorian style grocery shop, just like the ones we have in museums in UK! Sailed 6pm
Dec 21st at sea, sunny start but cool. Noon temp 15.6c with part cloud & passing rain showers. Wind force 2 but a large swell, pools closed! Dec 22nd Puerto Montt. After transiting Chacao channel in the night we anchored at 7am, cloudy & dull, temp around 11c with a cool breeze, morning scenic flight seeing cancelled. Tendered ashore for 9.30am very steep climb from tender to dock side, joined with another couple for a 7 hour taxi tour of the district ($170). Saw Frutilla, Puerto Varas, the snow capped volcano & mountains, several rain showers, Petrohue falls (1200 pesos entrance), the Emerald lake & Llamas + a caged Puma at a restaurant, our driver spoke some English & we thought we had good value for money. Others paid $30 each in a 10 seat mini bus for a much shorter tour with a driver who spoke no English. Flowers were everywhere with flowers we consider to be either spring or summer in bloom at same time & Embothrium (Chilean fire tree) growing wild in the woods. Sailed at 6pm along the fjords with snow capped peaks still visible in the twilight at 11pm. Dec 23rd During the night Arcadia sailed the confined waters of the Morelado channel & entered the Darwin channel at 07.48am, exiting at 09.50am straight into a force 9 gale. This remained with us all that day gusting to force 10 that night. Noon temp 11c but felt a lot colder with a 60 knot wind & rough seas with a heavy swell. Upper deck was closed to passengers to avoid accidents! Evening show cancelled that night. Some had problems in the night but we slept through it.
Dec 24th Christmas Eve. Entered Trinidad channel at 3am, followed by Conception channel & Wide channel, during which the wind dropped & sea conditions improved. Entered Seno Eyre fjord at 10.48am & encountered first ice growlers soon after, still 15 miles from glacier, all around were sharp mountains with fresh snow, superb scenery but low cloud & mist obscured some of it. Air temp 6c but felt colder, rain showers on & off all the time. Approached the Pious XI glacier very very slowly, lots brash ice & growlers & turned away at 12.30pm when still 5 miles away with porpoises playing in the wake. Due to its size (2.5miles wide 300ft high) it was still an impressive sight. Watched the return journey down the fjord from the rear deck & sometimes the cloud lifted for spectacular views, at one point there is a brief glimpse of the edge of the Patagonian ice cap (84000 hectares). Left the deck at 5 pm when rain/cloud/mist obscured everything. Ship continued in sheltered waters through channels Innocentes & Sarmiento entering the Pacific Ocean again via channel Smyth at 11pm by which time Santa Claus had already been to our cabin.
Dec 25th Christmas Day. Wind force 9 again in the night until we entered the Magellan straights at 5.30am. We were already awake & phoned Daughter in UK on the ships phone (4.24pounds or $6.40 per min) at 5.35am. Superb scenery again with higher cloud than yesterday, saw tooth jagged mountains with snow on them & some small hanging glaciers all day as we slowly meandered along the straights, spent a lot of time on deck. 9am temp report 6c & noon 8c wind force 2/3 meaning less windchill than yesterday, we even sat on a deck lounger at stern for some time. By dinner time the Eastern end of the straights had turned to flatter shale type hills with no snow on them, western end is much more scenic. Evening dinner & entertainment was very good & we fell into bed at midnight well satisfied with our Christmas day.
Dec 26th Boxing Day. Woke 6.15am & alongside at Punta Arenas by 7am. Took the free transfer bus to Plaza de Armas, lots of old trees with a Laburnum avenue in flower & tulips just finishing. Tourist info office here & has 2 internet terminals with 20 mins free if you can use it in Spanish & with unfamiliar controls. Just off the Plaza is the Galleria shopping mall not that special but it does have rest rooms/toilets with 150 pesos entrance! We walked to the Regional Museum kept by the Salesian friars as I had seen this before in the 1950's, it is much expanded now. After lunch we took a taxi ($20 per hour) to see the old port, the viewing point and the Cemetery, an amazing sight, they really do look after their ancestors in South America. Long avenues of clipped trees among the mausoleums with elaborate sculptures, did a photo stop on the way back at the monument to the Patagonian Shepherd. We have never seen a town before with so many Statues & Monuments. Sun had broken through during the morning & temp was 9c by noon with a wind force 4. During the afternoon it was even warmer & we sat by the pool but with all our clothes on! The wind then increased in minutes to force 10 & Arcadia had to use side thrusters & two tugs to hold against the pier until leaving in a force 8 wind at 6pm.
Dec 27th Beagle Channel & Ushuaia. During the night there was a brief move out of sheltered waters before entering the Beagle channel at 5.30am, unfortunately I had dropped off at 5am after being awake most of the night & so missed the best of the glaciers seen immediately after entering the channel. Woke at 6.40am to see another glacier from the window & dashed on deck to see the last two glaciers! Sun shining, clear sky & magnificent scenery. If we thought we had seen the best of the scenery before this then we were sadly mistaken! Lots of large jagged mountains with snow kept us on deck for rest of morning. Tried to get alongside at Ushuaia at 10am, lost two lines in force 6/7 wind off the pier, took nearly 2 hours to get alongside with help of 2 tugs, but the setting of Ushuaia is beautiful with mount Olivia rising to almost 5000ft behind. Off the ship at 12.25 to share a taxi with our friends, did the tour to the lakes & the national park for $65, 6 hours in taxi. Superb scenery on way to the coastguard station on lake Faganano most of which was on graded roads, quite an experience. The lake is 90K long with a third on the Chile side, back to hidden lake for a coffee, several stops at viewing points. Then through back of the town & out to the park on graded roads again. Saw the little railway (those who did the tour said it was not worth the money) & most southerly golf course, post office & sign for end of Pacific highway (17848Km to Alaska) lots of wildlife, wonderful trees & very picturesque lakes & pools. Again a superb tour, as we had no Argentine pesos the driver paid the park entrance fee & charged us $16 for all of us. Noon temp 9c wind force 6, sailed at 8pm & exited Beagle channel at 11.30pm. Stayed up to watch a new show in the theatre until 1.0am!!
Dec 28th Up at 6am for Cape Horn, cloudy & misty, out on deck by 6.30am with Cape Horn obscured as we approached. Weather cleared & we had a good view as we passed to starboard at 7am but as we turned & passed again to port it was back to dull. 9am bridge said temp was 8c with a following wind force 7, only a little rocking & rolling as we headed for Falkland Islands. Noon temp 8c but seemed warmer than that out of the wind, very easy to get sun/wind burnt down here.
Dec 29th Falkland Islands. Looking out of the window from 4.30am for first glimpse, on deck by 7am for final approach in a force 8 wind, anchor dropped at 8am. We managed to get on the 2nd tender to go ashore with spray going right over the boat. I should explain that as my ship was based here 45 years ago I was particularly keen to get ashore here & knew that conditions could blow up to prevent tenders getting passengers ashore. We met a born & bred Falklander (Lachie Ross) with a Range Rover at the Tourist centre who took us to gypsy cove to see the penguins, then all the other sights & down past the end of the harbour for a good view of the two sisters mountains that I hiked up all those years ago. Back in Stanley we had fish & chips + coffee for two in the Globe tavern for 9pounds ($13.5) then explored the shops & the Britannia museum before making some phone calls home. Back on board we left our anchorage in Port William at 6.15pm with a service of remembrance on the aft decks (over 300 people present) for those lost in the 1982 war with a poppy wreath cast into the sea. Noon temp was 7.5c wind force 6 but in the afternoon the wind had dropped & sun came out making it quite warm around 15/16c. At dinner that night I watched the Islands recede after what had been an emotional day for me, never having thought I would ever get back there again. Then all the early mornings & late nights caught up with me, the adrenaline high of the past 10 days subsided, by 8.30 I was asleep & slept on & off for 14 hours in next 22 hours, it is exhausting being a tourist! Dec 30th at sea. Still cool 8c at 9am with following wind force 5/6
Dec 31st New Years Eve. At sea, cool am but sunny & temp up to 19c by noon with following wind force 4, drank our bottle of "champers" on a sheltered aft deck following lunch, to start our new year celebrations off on the right note! Dinner & evening celebrations very good & well organised. Jan 1st Montevideo & New Years day so everything closed, must have been a good party here last night, streamers & empty cracker cases all over & more tourist police than people on the streets. Main squares etc can be walked to from the ship, the Graff Spree anchor is right by the ship. We took a taxi with our friends to all the main squares & parks then out along the beaches & through the upmarket housing area. Many fine trees & flowers to be seen all over Montevideo. Taxi was $50 for 4.25 hours, again a very good tour. Spent the afternoon packing as we had a full day arranged for tomorrow, up on deck at 4pm for sail away at 5pm. Noon temp was best yet 27c with sunny clear sky.
Jan 2nd Buenos Aires. Alongside at 6.45am, after 3826 nautical miles from Valparaiso. We did a ships city tour in the morning & found it to be very good, a very smart city with lots to see & many skyscrapers. Yes we heard all the warnings about watching out for ourselves but it is a beautiful city with wide streets having tree filled central reservations & 25% of its area dedicated to parks & public open space. Saw the plaza mayo with the pink palace & "Evitas" balcony, the Cathedral, & the circle that the mothers of the disappeared walked round when the dictatorship was in power. On to Recoleta church highly decorated with the cemetery next door containing Evitas final resting place. I never thought I would see so many cemetery's as I have on this trip but they do have a certain fascination in the styles used in the different Country's. Palermo park has 800 species of tree from around the world & a large rose garden & BA has 1000's of jacaranda trees that must be a sight in their spring. Afternoon we did a ships tour to the Tigre river delta for a very nice cruise around some of the Islands, again fascinating to see how people lived on them & a good tour, shame about the very sweet black coffee they gave us on the boat! All tours leave from the ship but you are dropped back at the dock entrance were there is a shopping area! Taxis are available here & very cheap, a shuttle bus is provided from the ship to the gates.
Itinerary summary-For us it was superb, tropics, desert, temperate, cold etc back to temperate then tropics again. Magnificent scenery, lots of wildlife. The Fjords/Magellan straights/Beagle channel area is devoid of any human habitation, no signs of it at all. This must be one of the last great wilderness cruising areas, see it while you can! However the sunbathing shopaholics among you would probably not enjoy cruising this area. All the South American ports are commercial ones, no cruise terminals at all. At the pier or dock gate there is usually an English speaking taxi "organiser" & if you are early & ask for an English speaking driver you may just be lucky! You will almost always be considerably cheaper than a ships tour. Having seen all 3 of the major fjord areas I now rate this as number 1, with Norway inside passage to North Cape a close 2nd & Alaska a distant 3rd (sorry my American friends but that's the way we see it).
Conclusion-Adult only cruising is a winner & is here to stay, we would never contemplate a holiday time cruise again on a regular ship. We enjoyed this cruise immensely & think that P&O has many good points but the food sadly lets them down. That comment may upset some of the P&O regulars but we did have one comment from a regular that "this food was a lot better than Oriana 6 months ago" if that is true then P&O must get up to date with the menus & quality of their food. We would travel with P&O again at the right price but not at their regular early booking terms as these are usually more expensive than RCI, Celebrity & HAL